COLORADO SPRINGS. Sheila Whalen, previously the principal of St. Peter School in Monument, was named Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Colorado Springs effective July 1. She replaces Holly Goodwin, who is retiring.
Whalen, a native of Big Rapids, Michigan, said that she has always loved teaching but started out in the public school system. Her career in Catholic education began in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, where she lived with her husband and two children for 14 years before moving to Colorado in 2012.
“My children started attending St. Mary’s in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and I really felt like God was calling me to share my love for education and love for the faith with the school,” Whalen said. She taught at St. Mary’s for three years before being named principal, a position that she held for 10 years.
After Whalen’s family moved to Denver in 2012, a chance meeting led to her becoming principal of St. Peter School.
“My former superintendent from Oklahoma City was at a conference with Holly Goodwin, who mentioned there was an opening for a principal position,” Whalen said. “It was a two-week whirlwind. I didn’t have any personal knowledge of the school.”
Reflecting on struggles that teachers and administrators have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Whalen credits a strong community of parents and teachers with helping St. Peter navigate the challenges of online learning, quarantines, etc.
“Our parent community was amazingly supportive of the teachers. They recognized how hard they were working and that all of this was out of our control,” Whalen said. “We focused on the emotional wellbeing of our children and of our teachers, challenging the students but giving them a lot of grace.”
Although her tenure in the diocese has been focused at St. Peter School, Whalen said she does not favor a “one size fits all” approach to Catholic education.
For example, several Catholic schools in the diocese plan to adopt a classical curriculum starting in the 2021-22 school year, but a classical approach might not be the best choice for every school, she said.
“The beautiful part of Catholic schools is that there is site-based management,” Whalen said. “Each school reflects the needs and desires of the parish.
“St. Peter started transitioning to a classical curriculum this year, and I feel that it is a wonderful fit for the school; it’s returning to our roots, to a large extent,” Whalen said. “But I think it’s more about helping each school determine what their community needs and wants. How do we create the best education possible while maintaining those Catholic standards?”
Whalen also paid tribute to Goodwin, saying that she was familiar with Goodwin’s zeal for Catholic education long before she arrived at St. Peter.
“I remember meeting Holly when she was a principal in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” Whalen said. “She did a presentation on building faith within school faculty. She has infinite energy, and her love and passion for the Catholic faith just permeate the room.”
In fact, Whalen said that one of Goodwin’s major accomplishments in the Diocese of Colorado Springs was establishing the Aquinas Catechetical Institute (ACI), an annual two-day workshop at the start of the academic year when Catholic school teachers receive instruction in various aspects of the Catholic faith.
“The ACI training is an incredible legacy,” Whalen said. “What we know is that we have people who want to teach in a Catholic school but maybe didn’t have the formation we would like them to have. This is an opportunity for their own understanding of Catholic doctrine to grow, and to do it with their peers.”
Whalen also credited Goodwin with raising the academic standards for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Colorado Springs.
“She focused on academic standards to make sure we’re continually improving the educational opportunities for students and maintaining that tradition of rigor,” Whalen said. “And she has definitely worked tirelessly to find ways to make Catholic education more affordable. Trying to find more creative ways to fund Catholic education is something we’ll have to continue to address.”